Tudors by Peter Ackroyd

TudorsThis review is going to be a bit different from the ones that I usually do.  You see, I didn’t finish this book, so I’m going to discuss the reasons why.  I firmly believe that you can learn a lot about a book by reading both the positive and the negative with regards to other people’s opinions about it.

I’ve been interested in the Tudor dynasty for a long time.  The history of that era reads like the most sensational novel ever penned, and it encompasses love, hate, passion, politics, religion, war, and a host of other things.  It’s a complicated time in history, when many forces came into play and shaped the way the world looked for decades, if not centuries.

My primary sources of info have been, as you may imagine, books written on the subject.  I’ve also watched media presentations like The Tudors on Showtime and The Other Boleyn Girl on the big screen, and while these favor entertainment over accuracy in many respects, they still inspire me to go looking for information on my own.  A few documentaries round out my experience with delving into the period.

When I saw that Peter Ackroyd was writing a book the covers the Tudor dynasty, I was immediately interested.  I hadn’t read anything by him, having mostly read books by Alison Weir, but I’m always open to a new author.  His first book about English history, Foundation, had many excellent reviews, so I had high hopes for Tudors.

I freely admit that I only made it through three of Henry VIII’s six wives before I gave up in boredom.

How did that happen?  How did a historical period that I find so fascinating get reduced to something that I was slogging through long before I gave up on it?

Part of my disappointment seems to have sprung from my own expectations.  For one, this book is slightly mistitled in that it does not cover the entire Tudor dynasty–it leaves out Henry VII.  This seems a bit odd to me as the Tudors were brought to power on the battlefield and readers don’t get to see that piece of history in conjunction with the rest of the family’s deeds.  For another, prime movers and shakers of the period get short shrift here: Thomas More, Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell, and others show up much less frequently than I expected.

The rest of my inability to finish the book lies in the author’s writing and presentation style.  I was surprised to find that Ackroyd’s writing felt fairly unfocused to me.  This may be because so many books about this period look heavily through the lens of Henry VIII’s actions, which makes sense given how many changes he introduced to England during his reign.  But while Ackroyd covers a lot of ground, many of the events he writes about seem unmoored from everything else and are presented in isolation.  The passing of laws that were the result of specific chains of events seem to pop up suddenly in a way that makes them feel abrupt. People come and go from the narrative with awkward irregularity, such as the way the Spanish ambassador (who, if I remember rightly, was never named in this book although he was present at the court for many years) occasionally appears in references to his letters back to Spain.

At the point that I gave up, I didn’t feel that I was going to get a good overview of the Tudor era by reading this book.  It isn’t that I feel that a comprehensive look at the era is impossible; rather, I don’t think Ackroyd’s approach works well either stylistically or as a collection of facts.  I’ll stick with Weir for my history fix.

Series: The History of England
ISBN: 9781250003621
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Page Count: 528
Publication Date: October 8, 2013
Acquired: Borrowed from the Yolo County Public Library, Davis branch